Published On: Fri, Oct 14th, 2016

Transforming Education for the Next Generation Workforce: An Open Letter to the Incoming Cabinet

As the global economy continues to become increasingly dependent on technology, the baseline requirements for jobs in that new economy will continue to evolve. As you assume the challenges of carrying out your mandate to oversee the critical task of maximizing educational outcomes for the students of Curaçao, it is important to consider that you now have in front of you the opportunity to transform your schools, teachers and students to prepare for the labor force of this rapidly changing world economy. Transformative initiatives centered around technology integration will not only improve the lives of students but also directly supports a broader national objective of expanding the economic development of this country.

The importance of your task cannot be understated. By enabling students to compete against their peers in the global labor market, you will position Curaçao to better compete internationally. Research suggests that integrating ICT throughout governmental services, especially in the classroom, contributes to the overall economic and social health of a nation by increasing competitiveness and preparing students for macro-level labor force shifts as the number of non-skilled jobs continue to decline.

Both in developed and developing countries, employment opportunities are rapidly shifting to jobs that require employees to have the education necessary to use specialized technologies in the workplace. This training is about more than instruction to use new tools and processes, but also fostering students’ cognitive skills to become constant learners to adapt as technology inevitably evolves. In other words, learning technical skills alone is inadequate. Rather a well-prepared student must also have the skills to continuously adapt their technical knowledge – they must learn how to learn. Countries which pursue active programs of transforming their educational systems for the purpose of developing a workforce better able to take advantage of changing social and economic realities will fare better in the long run as these trends continue.

Technology in the classroom can no longer be considered as optional nor can it be considered as something to add on to existing curricula. Instead, it is necessary to integrate technology training into every facet of your schools. Children must learn to solve problems not simply by using technology to automate old ways of doing things but rather to weave it into the fabric of the entire educational programme. It is insufficient to make technology a discrete once-a-day class but rather it must be a part of every subject from math to language arts. You otherwise risk the “$1,000 pencil” problem in which you are simply tacking on modern technology to continue teaching from an old perspective.

As multinational companies continue operating with increasing impact to the local markets, it is important to have a qualified workforce to serve in new roles in those companies’ operations here. They will demand a baseline training standard in order to hire local candidates. Failing to find qualified locals may otherwise require them to import workers who have the requisite skills for this new information economy.

If you consider the country’s relative economic prosperity, as evidenced by a nominal per capita GDP of over ANG 64,000 which is 27th in the world, it would seem reasonable that the resources to carry out this transformation are available. And although monetary measures are useful in defining the affluence of a country, further consider that knowledge, information and training also prove valuable assets albeit less simple to measure. Take steps now to assure Curaçao remains knowledge rich and not poor. The digital divide, which defines the gap between the haves and the have-nots in relation to ICT services is growing worldwide. It is your responsibility to make certain you fully leverage available resources to plot the nation’s course towards staying on the right side of that gap.

To carry out the vision to educate workers for a new workforce, there are a few guiding principles to consider.

Teachers and administrators must be adequately trained to ensure programme success. Teacher competency in embracing new technologies is a crucial element to training others. The training must be more than cursory, teachers and educators must have mastery of not only the material they will teach but competency to challenge students beyond the stated curriculum when appropriate. In addition to qualifying them to teach students, educators using technology in their own jobs will be more effective overall.

English must be integrated fully into the classroom. The lingua franca of the technology industry is English. Technology developers in every corner of the globe use English almost exclusively when interacting with their colleagues. In the same way that the aviation industry has standardized on English to ensure pilots and flight controllers can universally communicate, the technology industry has done the same. This is not to diminish the cultural significance of the Papiamentu language or to deny the nuanced sensitivities surrounding the historical and socio-political remnants of colonialism. Nonetheless, it is critical for success in preparing students for globally-focused careers with increasingly international employers.

Gender equality matters. The technology industry as a whole has done a poor job of building gender equity among its ranks, including in the US. Tech companies have recognized this and will continue taking steps for demanding a more inclusive workforce. This provides an outstanding opportunity for Curaçao to leapfrog many of its peers by demonstrating strong leadership when it comes to educating women for the high tech industry. However, employing the strategy of gender mainstreaming will be insufficient by itself. Rather, it is also necessary to embrace a fundamental transformation of existing educational processes to wholly embrace gender equality as a core value.

Unlike much of the world, Curaçao does not suffer the biggest risks to educating young women. The UN cites lack of financial resources, physical attack, nonconsensual marriage, lack of family support and access to healthcare as leading reasons why 62 million girls around the world are not in school. Curaçao has cultural attitudes which on the whole render most of those as inconsequential issues here. Therefore, it is imperative to exploit the lack of these educational impediments relative to other nations for the purposes of producing a more valuable workforce with a greater chance of being sought by high tech firms in the future.

Engage the private sector. Outcomes of these efforts will be enhanced the more private industry is involved in the process. Public-private partnerships may provide more and better access to educational opportunities for all students, especially children from lower-income families. In addition, these partnerships contribute to the overall educational environment by providing learning opportunities which more closely mimic modern workplace environments. Creating opportunities for children to become accustomed to the culture of modern offices and interact with people in the industry will improve results for Curaçao’s students.

Ministers, this is your opportunity to embrace the positive impacts of refining your educational system to include technology as a core element. The benefits to the country’s economic future and to the quality of life here can be significantly enhanced. However, failing to act quickly may very well diminish your chances to do so in the future. Your mission is critical to this country’s continued success.

By James Ogden, MS
Cabaviso Technology Advisors

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